How Classical Music Served as America’s Soundtrack
Classical music isn’t the most popular style today, but it greatly influenced the development of the West.
By: Andrew Moran | June 1, 2021 | 528 Words
“Music begins when the possibilities of language end,” said Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, J.S. Bach … the list of titans of classical music could fill an entire concert hall. While many still enjoy the works of these musical geniuses today, it is important to understand how this style influenced Western civilization and the United States of America.
The Classical Period (1730 to 1820)
Author Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “The glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome.” The music of these ancient societies may be lost to modern ears, but in the middle of the 18th century, Europe embraced the romantic elements of ancient Rome and ancient Greece, from philosophy to architecture. Music, moving on from the Baroque era, entered the Classical period, featuring a lighter and less complex texture and tone. Even though it was fashionable to gain inspiration from the ancient world, it was still true that as Western civilization evolved, so did art and culture.
What makes this era of classical music fascinating is how it coincided with what was occurring in America. As musical geniuses were revolutionizing classical music in Europe, Americans in the Age of Enlightenment movement were fighting an empire and forming a new nation.
Founding Fathers’ Views on Classical Music
Many of the Founding Fathers were either trained musicians or had a love for classical music. Thomas Jefferson was a successful violinist. He had 6,500 volumes of sheet music that were later sold to the federal government to start the Library of Congress. In his later years, Jefferson spent his time talking about music, collecting compositions, and playing his favorite composers.
Reportedly, Jefferson had met with Mozart in Paris, France. The third U.S. president adored Mozart’s work. He was interested in commissioning music to honor his late wife, but Jefferson’s views of Mozart as a person were rather unflattering, describing the Austrian composer as “socially uncouth and frivolous.”
Mozart never left Europe. His symphonies were rarely played in the U.S., although many of America’s Founders had listened to his compositions. Benjamin Franklin met privately with Mozart during his visit to Paris, and Mozart produced a composition for the glass harmonica, a musical instrument invented by Franklin: “Adagio K. 617a.”
Does Classical Music Still Influence Today?
Is classical music still relevant today, when Justin Bieber and Cardi B top the charts? A recent Billboard/Nielsen study found that classical music had a 1% share of the U.S. market, ranking last out of the 12 genres. Classical ranked behind hip-hop, pop, country, and children’s music. It has been rough for the genre to survive in today’s world. But is classical dead?
A quick glance at YouTube will show that classical tunes still receive thousands and even millions of views. So, there is still interest among the crowd – old and young alike.
Whether it is out of entertainment or a peek back in time, classical music is essential to appreciate the advancements that Western civilization has contributed to our world. Both the United States and Europe have given humanity so much beauty. It is time to sit back and enjoy this blessing.